Editors get a lot of emails from writers who want to write for them. Unsurprisingly, every one of those writers is convinced that their article would be perfect for the magazine/website/newspaper they are pitching to. The reality is that many writers sabotage a great idea by not knowing how to pitch. Editors are busy, and they will often dismiss poor pitches, no matter how good your premise is.
Without the ability to convince an editor that you are the person for the job, there’s little chance of getting your articles published. This means that you need to focus as much on your pitch as you do on your article. The good news is that crafting a compelling pitch is not difficult, particularly with this foolproof guide.
The key element of any pitch is the central idea – what’s your article about? Why should the editor (or their readers) care? You need to be able to communicate this in two paragraphs or less – no one has time to read a short story about your idea, no matter how amazing it is. Be precise but descriptive, and remember the 5 ‘W’s: who, what, where, when, why.
Be precise about how you are going to write the article. How many people are you going to interview, and who are they? What does the beginning, middle and end of the article look like? What are the key points you want to get across? Obviously, some of this won’t become apparent until you start writing it, but you need to be clear with the editor about how you are going to put the article together.
You now need to explain to the editor why you are the person for the job. Below are three areas to focus on.
If you have exclusive access to a person or place, you are already in the driver's seat. Maybe you received an invitation to a tour of a private French chateau, or a cooking class with a renowned chef, or an interview with a reclusive travel writer. Whatever it is, access sells articles, as the editor will know the same same article won’t be all over the internet. If you do have access to something or someone no one else has, make sure to flag it up – exclusivity sells.
If you are a writer with a background as a nutritionist pitching an article about foraging for food on the Appalachian Trail, that’s going to get more attention than if you are a travel blogger doing the same thing. Likewise, if you are proposing an article about tango dancing in Buenos Aires, it would be a more compelling pitch if you have competed in tango before. Of course, the ‘fish out of water’ trope can work well too (“I have two left feet but decide to learn tango in Buenos Aires anyway”), but those types of articles live and die on the quality of the writing. If you are pitching an idea in a field you are an expert in, make sure to let the editor know – editors like expertise as it makes their job easier.
While a great idea will sell a story, editors also want to know that you can write. Make sure you send them links to two or three published articles which show what you can do. Also make sure your email to them is as well written as possible (even one spelling mistake can doom your pitch). While good editors will help make an article as good as it can be, they don’t have time for complete rewrites. This is a ‘show, don’t tell’ moment – editors don’t want you to tell them you are a great writer, they can decide that for themselves by reading your clips.
In the good old days, photo editors would find the images to accompany an article, but these days that’s usually the art director or editor’s job. If you can take or access hi-res images, let the editor know – being able to provide great photos along with a great article will give your pitch added appeal.
Below are two pitches, one bad (OK, terrible) and one good.
“Hi, I am traveling to Paris next week and would love to write an article on the city’s best restaurants. Let me know if you are interested and what the rate is.”
For an editor, this had red flags all over it. It’s incredibly vague, so the editor has no idea how the writer will approach this article or what access they will have in the restaurants, for example, can they interview a chef? Also, never query the rate in the first email. Believe it or not, editors get pitches like this all the time. Don’t be that writer!
If you were to turn this bad pitch into a good one, it would look something like this:
“I am a food writer based in Paris and would love to write an article about the city’s burgeoning brunch culture. Recent months have seen an increase in the number of Sunday brunch venues, with traditional brasseries rejigging their menus to cater to this new (and boozy) crowd. Not all are happy with this, however, and the city’s oldest residents are furious at being pushed out.
I can talk to the owners of two restaurants who are catering to the brunch crowd, and a restaurant owner who refuses to, as well as two locals: one who loves his Sunday brunch and one who wishes the whole scene would disappear."
This pitch is clearly much better. It gives an outline of the article and lets the editor know who the writer will talk to. It also introduces conflict to the story, which is something many of the best stories have.
Travel writers have been inspiring us to journey to new and exciting destinations for centuries, and we're as hungry as ever to read about where we could go next ... and what to do when we get there.
You may think you have the greatest story idea ever, but chances are you’re going about it all wrong, says New York Times writer Tim Neville.